China ends work camp system for 'prisoners'
China appears to have fulfilled a promise to dismantle hundreds of labour camps and release thousands of people who were imprisoned without trial.
Four out of six enormous labour camps on the outskirts of Beijing had their signs removed and were reportedly shut down. Staff said all their prisoners had been released and they were waiting for further orders. The other two camps had been converted; one into a drug rehabilitation centre and the other into a cell block for a local prison.
Interviews with former labour camp prisoners across China also confirmed that the system has been disbanded and that they had not been placed in any other type of detention.
The Communist Party promised in 2007 to end "re-education through labour", which allowed the police to imprison offenders -- including political and religious dissidents -- for up to four years without trial.
It was criticised as an "urgent human rights concern" by the United Nations in 2009.
However, for years there appeared scant progress and the future of the camps was kept a tight secret.
Human rights campaigners expressed concern that the camps might survive under a different name, or that prisoners would be moved to other facilities such as mental hospitals or secret jails.
At the start of 2013, there were roughly 160,000 people in labour camps, according to Human Rights Watch.
An official at Beijing's Labour Camp Bureau, who only named himself as Mr Zhang, insisted a new government vote at the end of December had proven decisive, and that all prisoners had been released. (© Daily Telegraph London)